Stand-up comedy is a big talent business around the world today because laughter is therapeutic. Medical science has proven that amusement can be a source of healing to a depressed heart. Laughter reduces pain, increases job performance, connects people emotionally, and improves the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain.
When comedy started gaining recognition in Nigeria in the 1980s, those on the scene then would rather prefer to lean more on the business side of Mastering a Ceremony (MC) than mainly cracking jokes. The likes of (late) Mohammed Danjuma, Ali Baba, Ibokoko, Barsorge, Agoma, Alarm Blow, and a few others were those who started comedy in Nigeria.
However, at the time when everyone thought it scornful to be addressed as a comedian but would prefer the MC tag, Ali Baba came up courageously and creatively in the late 80s/early 90s, and subsequently changed history by pioneering stand-up comedy. He saw the immense business opportunities in the industry and took advantage of the market. Today, the amount of money comedians charge per show surpasses the annual income of a regular banker.
The wave of comedy revolution that swept across the country also brought the likes of Opa Williams who gave Nigerians comedians and the public something to look forward to with the entrenchment of a session of frolicking called, ‘A night of a thousand laughs.’ The programme churned out an increasing number of comedy CDs for the public.
With high intellectual display of humour and massive fan base, some Nigerian comedians have become instant millionaires while some multimillionaires, ranking among the richest entertainers in Africa.
Many of them now drive around town in expensive automobiles and live in big mansions in highbrow areas. With more shows and millions of naira endorsement deals from corporate organisations, some have increased their investment portfolio to include real estate, event planning, art academy, hospitality, and general merchandise; while other derive pleasure in living a flamboyant lifestyle defined by conspicuous spending.
The Godfather Of Nigerian Comedy
Nigerians will always remember Atunyota Alleluya Akporobomerere, popularly known as Ali Baba, for starting a revolution that inspired a host of stand-up comedians like Basket Mouth, Opa Williams, Julius Agwu, Okey Bakassi, Gandoki, Gbenga Adeyinka D 1st, Gordons, Tee-A, Teju Babyface, AY, Bunmi Davies, I Go Die, I Go Save, Klint De Drunk, etc.
The acclaimed godfather of Nigerian comedy, who started stand-up comedy in Ekpoma in 1987, came to Lagos in 1990 to practise comedy professionally after being rejected and disowned by his retired soldier father who would rather prefer his son to become a lawyer.
Ali Baba took comedy business to another height in 1998 when he registered his company, “Ali Baba Hiccupurathird.” That same year he erected three billboards in strategic locations in Lagos: Ozumba Mbadiwe Street, Victoria Island; Osborne Road, Ikoyi and in Marina. He paid N150, 000 for each billboard per year for two years. The billboard carried a simple message, “Ali Baba –Being Funny Is Serious Business.”
That singular strategy shook the entire landscape and made contemporary comedy practice lucrative and appealing to Nigerians. Also, organisers of events, who were in the habit of paying peanuts to comedians, started getting huge bills from the rib-crackers.
With huge shows and endorsement, Ali Baba has not only continued to set the pace in comedy business, but has earned millions of naira in his 22 years experience in the industry. He is arguably the richest comedian in Africa. The ‘King of Comedy’ who had a rough beginning in his career; sleeping at the popular Lagos Bar Beach for a long while, was quoted recently in an interview saying: “I chose to pursue a career in comedy, which was in contrast to my father’s dream for me. Today, I am a billionaire and I have made people millionaires.”
Ali Baba owns choice properties in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Delta State. One of his properties in Lagos includes a luxury duplex in Queens Drive, Ikoyi, worth N750 million. He once got an endorsement deal with a multinational firm worth N100 million for two years. Ali Baba is also a lover of luxurious automobiles. He has ten exotic wheels valued at over N260 million, including two luxurious customised trucks and three glamorous Sports Utility Vans. With a banker wife, his investments span across importation and exportation business, relaxation centres, investment bank, fashion, and event management.
Basketmouth –Spontaneous And Talented
Spontaneous and talented, Bright Okpocha, popularly known as Basketmouth, is believed to be the second richest comedian in Nigeria after Ali Baba, and perhaps Nigeria’s biggest comedy brand. This argument is not subject to much debate given his array of endorsement deals and multinational clients, including Globacom and Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic. There has not been a higher earner in the comedy industry in Nigeria in the last five years than this comedian who hails from Abia State.
Although Basketmouth started out as a rapper, but since his emergence as one-half of a comedy partnership with Teju Babyface, the former dreadlocks-spotting comic has remained humorous and consistent, conjuring jokes from the most unlikely situations.
In the last five years, the talented comedian has been on several tours all around the western world, effortlessly breaking into the mainstream comedy scenes, earning thousands of dollar per show. In 2010, Basketmouth was voted second Best Comedian in Africa by MNET‘s Studio 53 Extra. Last year he performed alongside Gina Yashere of Def Comedy Jam in Long Island, New York before moving on to feature in Kojo‘s comedy show in London.
Basketmouth also performed during the famous Blues Room Comedy Show and at the Rhodes Comedy Nite, both in South Africa. He had performed in Atlanta and some other major cities in the United States of America.
Reputed as Nigeria's funniest comic, Basketmouth is not an average entertainer. Although he might sound stupid on stage just to make his audience laugh, but the comedian has the brains of a business mogul. He recently opened an ultramodern discotheque, bar and lounge, called ‘EmBARssy,’ in the university community of Yaba, Lagos. Few months ago, Basketmouth spent N16 million to acquire three brand new cars; two 2012 edition of Hyundai Elantra, and a 2013 Opel Insignia for his Baron World Entertainment outfit. He also moved the events company from his former Lekki base to a much bigger place on Ogunlana Drive, Surulere. The comic is a lover of properties. In the last five years, Basketmouth has acquired four properties and three landed properties.
His ‘African Kings of Comedy’ and ‘Lord of the Ribs’ are staged in the United Kingdom and in the US. In Lagos, these shows are hosted at the deluxe 5,000-seater Expo Centre of the Eko Hotel and Suites. Basketmouth earns over N60 million from these shows annually.
The ‘AY’ Brand
Top Nigerian comedian, Ayo Richard Makun, better known as AY, is another successful show host who is skilled in his art. The Delta State born stand-up comedian had been into showbiz for several years before his path crossed with that of his mentor, Ali Baba in 2005.
The Theatre Arts graduate of the Delta State University gained fame through impersonating Rev. Chris Okotie in his hilarious jokes. By 2006, AY was named the Best Up-Coming Comedian in Nigeria.
Before taking comedy as a career, AY once tried his hands in dry cleaning, bar tending, scavenging, and barbing. The comedian who has also featured in several home videos is well known for his live shows as well as his television programme, The AY Show. The TV show won the Best TV Comedy Show in 2008, while he was awarded a UN Peace Ambassador in 2009 after winning six different awards in 2008.
The multitalented comedian rakes in millions of naira from organising shows within and outside the country. He also has endorsement deals from multinationals worth several millions of naira. From 2007 to 2012, AY was reported to have earned over N230 million from different shows and endorsements. In 2007, he held Lagos spellbound when the second edition of AY Live, Lagos Invasion drew a record crowd forcing him to do two shows instead of one, as planned.
He added a luxury Range Rover Sport, worth N18 million, to his fleets of cars some months ago. Like his mentor, Ali Baba, AY has huge investment in real estate, event management, Fashion outlets, and hospitality.
Recently, the multiple award-winning stand-up comedians in collaboration with Sun International, operators of the Federal Palace Hotel and Casino teamed up to put up the AY Comedy Club dubbed as, The AY’s Open Mic Comedy Club. The show is a monthly comedy and variety show that entertains a distinct audience of high class.
Also, through his monthly AY’s Open Mic Challenge that holds every third Sunday at The National Theatre, Lagos, AY has become the ‘father’ of many up-coming and established acts. The show has discovered the likes of Seyi Law, Elenu, Emeka Smith, MC Shakara and a host of others.
Comedy Business Pays More
Gbenga Adeyinka D 1st, is a top act in the Nigerian comedy industry. He runs a television show and publishes a comedy magazine, called Laffmattaz. The multi-talented comedian, who has bagged over 40 awards and recognitions, earns million of naira from his partnership with the Nigerian Breweries, maker of Star Larger.
From the Star TV game show, to Star Trek, Star Mega Jamz, and now Star Fortune Promo, the ‘Comedian of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR)’ has earned about N200 million for the seven years business relation with the Nigerian Breweries. He owns several exotic cars and two houses each in Lagos and Ogun States.
Ace comedian Francis Agoda, but known as ‘I Go Dye’, recently splashed a whooping N21 million on two luxury automobiles to add to his posh wonders-on-wheels. He was on a two months Europe tour last year, performing in France, Holland, Germany, Spain and Belgium.
The Delta State-born humour merchant acquired N14 million worth White-Diamond Cadillac Escalade Hybrid 2012 Model (Platinum Edition) and a reported N7 million worth Range Rover Evogue. Sources close to the comedian said he owns real estate investments, including a property in Delta and Lagos. He said recently in an interview that he is building a home for his dear mother who supported him unconditionally over the years.
Another comedian in the ‘big boy’ caucus is Oluwaseyitan Aletile, a.k.a. Seyi Law. The former winner of the AY’s talent hunt show recently acquired two new ‘toys.’ The comedian, who was reported to have sold recharge cards in Surulere, Lagos before gaining fame, splashed N7million to take delivery of a Honda Element for his wife and a Chrysler 300 2007 model for himself.
The AY protégé and now established comedian, commanding good figures for shows in and outside the country, got married some months ago.
Other Big Earners
Other stand-up comedians who are earning big in the industry include Basorge Tariah (Jnr), owner of two event centres and an entertainment production outfit; Teju Babyface, who recently got married and bought a Range Rover Sport to celebrate his marriage, is the hosts of the popular Teju Babyface Show; Okey Bakassi, a senior special assistant to the former governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim; Tee-A, owner of a comedy bar in Lagos and host of a TV programme; Yaw, Koffi, Bunmi Davies, Owen Gee, among others.
The female comedians are not left out as the likes of Tatafo, Princess, Lepacious Bose, etc continue to earn cool cash performing within and outside the country.